Narratives of Harm: How Reports of Mass Shootings Privilege White Identities and Perpetuate Black Pathology”
Peart, Caleb J.
Popular discourse in the media frequently frame and correlate mass shootings with an American mental illness epidemic. However, considering the media’s propensity to only extend this label to white shooters compels us to ask: is mental illness a label for all mass shooters regardless of their race? Within the context of mass shootings, there remain stark racial disparities in the construction of shooting narratives. While black perpetrators comprise a large amount of the annual mass shootings each year, the epistemological frameworks undergirding their poor representations within the media is an under-researched subject. This thesis aims to expose existing racial assumptions in news reports of mass shootings during the period 2015-2019. This study analyzed five mass shootings for each year within that time frame for a total of 25. Quantitative methods were used to place numerical values on stark racial labeling and framing disparities in the news reports. However, in order to gain further insight on the nuanced meanings of these framings, this study also expanded upon its quantitative findings by analyzing the word choice and language tendencies of each article. This study revealed that mental illness labels are insufficient explanations of gun violence, especially when considering the racialized practices in reports of mass shootings. Instead, this thesis highlights how the label of mental illness among white shooters is part of a larger racialized practice of news reporting that is rooted in pathological portrayals of black shooters and benevolent framings of white ones.